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A gold coin is a coin made mostly or entirely of gold. Gold has been used for coins practically since the invention of coinage, originally because of gold's intrinsic value. In modern times, most gold coins are intended either to be sold to collectors, or to be used as bullion coins—coins whose nominal value is irrelevant and which serve primarily as a method of investing in gold.

Gold has been used as money for many reasons. It is fungible, meaning that it can be traded easily, with a low spread between the prices to buy and sell. Gold is also easily transportable, as it has a high value to weight ratio, compared to other commodities, such as silver. Gold can be divided into smaller units, without destroying its value; it can also be melted into ingots, and re-coined. The density of gold is higher than most other metals, making it difficult to pass counterfeits. Gold doesn't decay as quickly as other commodities. The scarcity of gold stabilizes its value.


The first gold coins in history were coined by Egyptian Pharaohs around 2,700 BC. These gold coins, of variable purity, were used primarily as gifts and not for commerce. Many centuries later, King Croesus, ruler of Lydia (560–546 BC), began issuing gold coins, with a standardised purity, for general circulation. King Croesus' gold coins follow the first silver coins that were minted by King Pheidon of Argosmarker around 700 BC. The Ying yuan was another gold coin minted during this time by the Chinese in the 6th or 5th century BC. Larger units of monetary value and exchange such as the talent were the ancient equivalents of the modern 400-troy-ounce "good delivery" gold bullion bar.

Gold coins then had a very long period as a primary form of money, only falling into disuse in the early 20th century. Most of the world stopped making gold coins as currency by 1933, as countries switched from the gold standard due to hoarding during the worldwide economic crisis of the Great Depression. In the United States, 1933's Executive Order 6102 forbade the hoarding of gold and was followed by a devaluation of the dollar relative to gold, although the United States did not completely uncouple the dollar from the value of gold until 1971 .

Gold-colored coins have made a comeback in many currencies. However, "gold coin" (in numismatic terminology) always refers to a coin that is (more or less) made of (real) gold, and does not include coins made of manganese brass or other alloys. Furthermore, many countries continue to make legal tender gold coins, but these are primarily meant for collectors and investment purposes and are not meant for circulation.

Collector coins

Many factors determine the value of a gold coin, such as its rarity, age, condition and the number originally minted. Gold coins coveted by collectors include the Aureus, Solidus and Spur Ryal.

In July 2002, a very rare $20 1933 Double Eagle gold coin sold for a record $7,590,020 at Sotheby's, making it by far the most valuable coin ever sold to date. In early 1933, more than 445,000 Double Eagle coins had been struck by the U.S. Mint, but most of these were surrendered and melted down following Executive Order 6102. Only a few coins managed to survive.

In 2007 the Royal Canadian Mint produced a 100 kg gold coin with a face value of $1,000,000, though the gold content was worth over $2 million at the time. It measures 50 cm in diameter and is 3 cm thick. It was intended as a one-off to promote a new line of Canadian Gold Maple Leaf coins, but after several interested buyers came forward the mint announced it would manufacture them as ordered and sell them for between $2.5 million and $3 million. As of May 3 2007 there were five confirmed orders. Austria had previously produced a 37 cm diameter 31 kg Philharmonic gold coin with a face value of 100,000.

In October 4, 2007, David Albanese (president of Albanese Rare Coins) stated that a $10, 1804-dated eagle coin (made for President Andrew Jackson as a diplomatic gift) was sold to an anonymous private collector for $5 million.

Image:Fr 1617-Schlegel 19var.jpg|Gold GuilderImage:500 reais ouro D. Sebastião.JPG|Portuguese Gold Coin, sixteenth century.Image:1933 double eagle.JPG|Double EagleImage:Gouden dukaat 1974-voorzijde.jpg|Ducat

Bullion coins

While obsolete gold coins are primarily collected for their numismatic value, gold bullion coins today derive their value from the metal (gold) content — and as such are viewed by some investors as a "hedge" against inflation or a store of value. South Africa introduced the Krugerrand in 1967 to cater to this market; this was the reason for its convenient and memorable gold content — exactly one troy ounce. It was the first modern, low-premium (i.e. priced only slightly above the bullion value of the gold) bullion gold coin. Bullion coins are also produced in fractions of an ounce – typically half ounce, quarter ounce, and one-tenth ounce. Bullion coins sometimes carry a face value as legal tender,The face value is minted on the coin, and it is done so in order to bestow legal tender status on a coin, which generally makes it easier to import or export across national borders. However, their real value is measured as dictated by their troy weight, the current market price of the precious metal contained, and the prevailing premium that market wishes to pay for those particular bullion coins. The face value is always significantly less than the bullion value of the coin. Legal tender bullion coins are a separate entity to bullion gold. One enjoys legal tender status, the latter is merely a raw commodity. Gold has an international currency code of XAU under ISO 4217. ISO 4217 includes codes not only for currencies, but also for precious metals (gold, silver, palladium and platinum; by definition expressed per one troy ounce, as compared to "1 USD") and certain other entities used in international finance, e.g. Special Drawing Rights.

Gold bullion coins usually come in 1 oz, 1/2 oz, 1/4 oz, 1/10 and 1/20 oz. sizes. Most countries have one design that remains constant each year; others (such as the Chinese Panda coins) have variations each year, and in most cases each coin is dated. A 1/10th oz bullion coin is about the same size as a U.S. dime. A 1 oz. gold bullion coin is about the size of a U.S. half dollar.

In July 2009 "Gold Crane" became the first gold coin issued by a virtual micronation, Wirtland. This 1/10 oz 24 carat gold coin produced by a private mint in USA is available from an internet shop. Because if its competitive price, the "Gold Crane" is used both as bullion coin and collector coin.


Image:Goldeagle.jpg|American Gold Eagleimage:Libertadoronewrev.gif|Mexican Gold Libertad

image:Wirtland_Crane_10_ICU.jpg|Wirtland Gold Crane

Other gold bullion coins, many named after their design features, include:


For most of history, coins were valued based on the precious metal they contain. Whether or not a coin was actually made by the party that it is claimed to be made by was of secondary importance compared to whether or not it contains the correct amount of metal, that is, right weight and fineness (purity). Genuine appearance was simply a convenient shortcut to avoid time-consuming tests in everyday transactions.

Unlike silver, gold is denser than almost all other metals, hence whether something is made of gold is extremely hard to fake. Simple determination of weight and volume should be sufficient. A coin that is the right size but is not gold, or has too much base metal, will be "light"; alternately, a coin that weighs right will be somewhat larger. (Platinum was unknown in ancient times; platinum is denser than gold, but since the price of platinum is usually much higher than that of gold, making a fake coin out of platinum would make no sense. In theory, fake coins could be made of uranium, but this does not appear to be a practical problem. One element that has just about the same density as gold is tungsten. Alloying gold with tungsten would not work for several reasons but a coin with a tungsten center and gold all around it could not be detected as counterfeit by density measurement alone.

An old practice to test whether a gold coin was counterfeit was to bite down on it. Since pure gold is relatively soft any base metals mixed with the gold to lessen its value will also harden the coin, and so make it harder to bite on.

The majority of bullion counterfeits (of all types) are rare, and fairly easy to detect when comparing their weights, colors and sizes to authentic pieces. This is because the cost of reproducing any given coin precisely can easily exceed the market value of the originals.

Numismatic fake samples

There are well made counterfeit gold coins in circulation. For example, the St. Gaudens Double Eagle omega counterfeit is infamous for its complexity and has fooled many numismatics experts. It is a high relief business strike, and due to the extensive wear on the die, these coins were not made for many years.

Another example is the US $20 gold coin ("double eagle"), which has raised lettering around its rim. If the coin is uncirculated, the letters will be flat on top. If slightly rounded, and the coin is uncirculated, it is a counterfeit. However, some counterfeits do not have this defect. There are other counterfeit double eagles in which the gold and copper alloy was not thoroughly mixed. These counterfeits will have a slightly mottled appearance.

See also


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Further reading

  • Robert Friedberg, Gold Coins of the World: From Ancient Times to the Present - An Illustrated Standard Catalogue with Valuations (Coin and Currency Institute, 2003) ISBN 978-0871843074

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